Martin Freeman's stage turn as Richard III has divided critics, with reviewers branding the actor's performance "highly intelligent" but "disappointingly underpowered".

The Hobbit star takes on the role of William Shakespeare's villainous king in a new production at London's Trafalgar Studios theatre which opened on Wednesday night (09Jul14).

The production had previously been hit with reports suggesting overzealous Freeman fans had been creating a distraction by whooping and cheering throughout the show, but critics reported the audience on press night was well behaved.

However, many theatre reviewers were underwhelmed by the show, with Charles Spencer of Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper calling the production "unnecessarily complicated" and insisting Freeman's turn in the title role was "disappointingly underpowered", adding, "There were moments when your reviewer was tempted to stand up and boo."

The Guardian's Michael Billington calls Freeman's performance "highly accomplished" but insists the staging of the play "doesn't make total sense", while The Independent's Paul Taylor adds, "Freeman gives a highly intelligent, calculatedly understated performance... (but) Freeman doesn't radiate a sufficiently dangerous sense of unpredictability."

However, Ben Dowell of the Radio Times was full of praise for The Office star, writing, "Freeman does not disappoint... (His) talent lies in creating something frighteningly ordinary about his villainy."

Freeman follows in the footsteps of stars including Laurence Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, Sir Kenneth Branagh and Sir Ian MCKellen, who have all played the murderous king on the stage.